A.J. Preller delivers: Matt Kemp to Padres

Matt Jemp
Yes, it’s true. Matt Kemp is now a Padre.

According to Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) of the San Diego Union Tribune, the Padres have agreed to send catcher Yasmani Grandal, starting pitcher Joe Wieland and what’s believed to be pitching prospect Zack Eflin — the Padres eighth overall prospect according to MLB.com — to the Dodgers for former Matt Kemp, backup catcher Tim Federowicz and approximately $31 million in salary relief.

That means the Padres will pay roughly $70 million for five years of Matt Kemp. Considering the market for right-handed power, and power in general being down in the game, it’s an absolute steal. Look, we all know Kemp is a poor defender, but what he brings to the plate is something the Padres desperately lack, which should offset any defensive shortcomings.

The Padres were desperate to make a splash under new General Manager A.J. Preller, and they missed out on two targets in Pablo Sandoval and Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas. Sandoval was reportedly offered more guaranteed money over five years vs. what the Giants and Red Sox offered. If he had signed with the Padres, the contract would have shattered the previous franchise record contract to former Padre Jake Peavy.

Insiders, and presumably the Padres, may have had concerns regarding Tomas’ defense and conditioning. This may have led Preller, known for his expertise in international scouting, to have reservations on the polarizing slugger. I believe Preller put a value on him and would only pay for what he and his braintrust thought he was worth. Preller scouted him as much as anyone, and it’s hard to fathom such a driven, competitive GM would sit back on Tomas unless there were serious baseball-related reservations.

With this year’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, it was no secret the Padres wanted to make a statement — to both a disconnected fan base and MLB that San Diego is finally an appealing destination. And not only for starting pitchers who are trying to build up their value in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. The Padres have had trouble attracting free-agent hitters who are turned off to how big PETCO plays.

Having said that, the first three days of the Winter Meetings seemed like more empty promises by the likes we’re all too familiar with from the former Padres regime. But late Wednesday night, the Padres and Dodgers agreed on the Kemp deal, which should have the casual and die-hard fans excited.

In one trade, the Padres altered the perception that they aren’t spenders or won’t bring in high-priced players. They showed they want to win, they want to win now and they want to get back to the World Series.

Getting back to the deal at hand: If the early reports are accurate, the Padres didn’t give up core starting pitchers Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy or newcomer Jesse Hahn, who was very impressive in his rookie campaign. The core has been surrounded by myriad rumors and trade speculation to bolster the Padres anemic offensive woes. To hold on to all four while acquiring such a game-changer in Matt Kemp is an impressive first major move for the rookie GM.

Instead, the Padres dealt from another unlikely strength — catching — and used Rene Rivera, Yasmani Grandal and top prospect and defensive wizard Austin Hedges as bait in a bleak catching market flooded with starting pitching.

Smart, right?

But there was uncertainty of what else, aside from catching help, would be dangled to entice other teams, namely the Dodgers, that would be appealing enough to make a Matt Kemp expendable. Rumors leading up to this blockbuster had the Padres possibly including Tyson’s brother Joe Ross and top pitching prospect Matt Wisler, which, as you can imagine, wasn’t sitting well with Padres fans, even for a slugger with Kemp’s stellar resume.

But at the end of the day, and what seemed like 900 Dodger trades to other teams, it appears Preller’s persistence and waiting the Dodgers out (or just wearing them out with phone calls ad nauseum) paid huge dividends to deserving fans and the city of San Diego.

The Padres didn’t give up their impressive pitching core or their more highly regarded prospects in Wisler or Ross. They kept intact their bread and butter, and their future resources while adding an elite offensive force in Kemp. This was absolutely paramount to compete with such financial powerhouses as the Dodgers and World Champion San Francisco Giants in the division. It’s a challenge Preller has fully embraced impressively thus far.

Let’s face it, Preller had to get creative, and dealing in your own division is often a tough task; especially for impact players or blockbuster trades. Pulling that off is pretty amazing regardless of how you feel about Matt Kemp, the prospects going to L.A. or Grandal’s “potential” coming off a good year after major surgery.

Matt Kemp already has a home in San Diego and should receive more than a warm reception from a fan base that’s absolutely frothing at the mouth for more excitement, but more importantly, a winning brand of baseball.

The front office answered some major questions about its commitment to San Diego and it should be applauded, especially Preller for being creative and going big on his first major move at the helm.

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